EPIC Roadtrip

Before we begin

Right, this is going to be a long one so buckle in for the ride!  I’m going to try and blog over the next couple of weeks while we travel from Scotland to Austria, stopping at some hopefully interesting places along the way.

Before we begin, it’s probably worth mentioning a few updates related to previous posts.  We now own Lexee!  What, I hear most of you say?  Lexee is the name of our Tesla Model 3 Long Range which we leased from Lex back in 2021.  The lease expired last month, and we had the option to buy her, which we did.  She will be transporting us from Scotland down to London for a day at Wimbledon to watch some tennis, and then down to Dover before catching the ferry across to Calais.  From there we plan to travel through France, Belgium and Germany to Austria, specifically Salzberg to explore some of the places where The Sound of Music was filmed, before heading back through Switzerland (possibly), Luxumberg and France, to catch the ferry back to Dover and then drive home to Scotland.  If that sounds like a long way, it is!  About a 2000 mile round trip, so a good test of the car and passengers.

They will be me, my partner of 22 years and our 11 (soon to be 12) year old daughter.  No dog for this trip, who will be enjoying her own holiday staying with family at Culzean Castle.  So that’s about it.  We’ll be leaving for London on the 5 July and I’ll blog where I can along the way, hopefully with some interesting stories, pictures and video from my new drone.  Wish us luck and enjoy the adventure…

In Bruges

So we’ve already made it to Belgium and this is the first time I’ve found some time to provide an update on our adventure, so perhaps the blog won’t be as EPIC as the road trip!

The drive from down south was fairly uneventful although I think I’m getting too old to be driving between the Scottish and English capitals! We stopped at Tebay Services on the M6 for some lunch and electricity before continuing south. Lexee was suggesting another stop at Keele Services but by the time we got there nobody really needed to stop so we thought we’d crack on. P came up with the great idea of stopping in Stratford-upon-Avon to visit the birthplace of Shakespeare and found a charger at the Morrisons for Lexee. We grabbed some supplies and plugged in the car before wandering into Stratford where we took a few photos and headed back as the heavens opened. Not the first time we’d get wet on this holiday 🌧️

The Premier Inn at Wimbledon was fine and we found an on street charger to plug in Lexee. It wasn’t clear if it was for residents only, but we thought we were ok while the car was charging and I slowed things down to make that longer than required. I got up at 5:20 the next morning and walked up to the All England Lawn Tennis Association aka Wimbledon to join The Queue. I probably need to do a separate blog about the whole experience, but needless to say it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I’d hoped to get a ground ticket before 11am and then head back to the hotel to checkout with P & K before finding somewhere to park and go enjoy the tennis. I was still in a very long queue by 11:20 when P & K found me to switch places so I could check out and sort the car before joining them back at the tennis. It has been a long 5 hours and I was almost ready to go back and just watch films in Lexee, but they did managed to get a ticket fairly shortly after I’d left (well, about another 90 minutes) by which time I’d checked out of the hotel, packed Lexee who hadn’t managed to get a parking ticket and find somewhere to park for the rest of the day. I made it back to Wimbledon and enjoyed some tennis and football before driving down to Dover for a night in the Travelodge before our early morning ferry to Calais.

We stopped in Dunkirk en route to Bruges checking into the Radisson Blu just after 3pm. We were all pretty exhausted and needed a rest before exploring, but the hotel was a big improvement on the previous and cheaper to boot, so we called reception and extended our stay for an extra night giving us a full day to explore Bruges before heading on to Brussels. We did head in for some dinner and caught the end of Belgiums largest flea market before enjoying some food and drinks at Heavenly Pizza after a short walk around the tall spires in Bruges. The next day we headed back for a breakfast of waffles before a short boat trip along the canals. We headed back to the hotel for lunch and to recharge our batteries (Lexee had been topped up again the day before in the car park under the hotel!) before a final walk into Bruges for some dinner at the Frites Bar.

We’d struggled to find a reasonable priced hotel in Brussels for the following day so ended up booking something a little outside. The plan is to visit the Atomium on our way in and then drive into the centre for a few hours. I’ve registered Lexee so she can drive in the ULEZ and we’ll head out to the hotel after a brief visit. No plans beyond that but will provide another update then. This blog might look a bit of a mess for a while as I’ve typed this on my phone using the Jetpack App! It wouldn’t let me edit the Divi blog I’d started the blog with, so I copied and pasted that into here. I’ll sort it out when I have a bit more time to fire up the laptop. I’m sure I’ll have some spelling to fix and can add some links and pictures too!

Charging across Europe

I’m still on the Jetpack App, so excuse the spelling mistakes 😂 We’ve now reached Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany 🇩🇪 having passed very briefly through the Netherlands 🇳🇱 stopping for some lunch in Maastricht. Tomorrow we are planning to make it to Salzburg in Austria 🇦🇹 where we will be staying for 3 nights and will give us chance to relax a little from the EPIC road trip.

Not having a plan does offer lots of flexibility, but you also tend to spend a fair amount of downtime planning the next day or two in advance, including driving, accommodation and fuelling the body. Luckily we haven’t had to give too much thought to charging Lexee, which is what is was really referring to in my ‘Charging across Europe’ heading!

I was a little worried about how things might work across Europe having not tried it before and knowing that the UK isn’t as easy to navigate as North America, which we’d done on a road trip around the New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Toronto, Montreal and Boston last year. I neednt have been as we’ve been fortunate enough to find destination chargers at most of the places we’ve stopped for the night, and there’s been plenty of Tesla Superchargers and other destination charges enroute. We’ve not needed to go out of our way once, and the only real challenge has been the multitude of new Apps I’ve needed to install, accounts to create and payments to make. Some of them have been toward the prices I’d normally drive away from in the UK, but the approach has been to charge to full when we can overnight and start each day at 💯%

The Tesla chargers have all been super fast (some pushing the 250kWh max), the cheapest (around €0.33 or £0.28) and easiest to use (simply connect and you’re off). The destination chargers have been a bit more complicated, more often than not requiring an app to be downloaded and an account created to use. Some just require payment on a webpage, some using Apple Pay which is probably the easiest. There was only one that wouldn’t work with either method (after frustratingly downloading the app and creating an account) but the hotel had a RFID card that could be used instead. That also happened to be the most expensive, almost completing with gasoline ⛽️, at €0.71! I’m sure we’d have found a Tesla charger, but the convenience of starting the day with ‘a full tank’ was worth the extra cost, and was probably only about £7-8 in the context of a £?000 trip!

I’ll try and pull together some more detailed stats once we’ve made it back home. I have a Teslamate account connected to Lexee which tracks her every move, and a Grafana Docker container where I can access lots of wonderful information about trips, charging, costs, efficiency, etc. When I eventually get some time with a laptop rather than a mobile phone I’ll add some screenshots with some details.

Anyway, that will do for now. We’re about to go and eat at a traditional German restaurant, which I’m not sure my Daughter will approve, but we had take away pizza last night watching the Netherlands v England EURO2024 semi final as my parter wasn’t feeling too good. It’s great to see lots of the world on a road trip, but it does take it out of you! A new country for all of us tomorrow though and a few days in the same place so should get some time to relax a little….

Another New Drone

Well, so much for blogging every month!  I’m only a few days late, but there’s still no blog for May.  Part of the problem was knowing what to blog about, as I was all out of ideas.  At least, I was until I took my new drone out for a test flight over the weekend. Then, I remembered I’d blogged about another new drone some years ago.

I’ve always loved playing around with remote-controlled things (search ‘remote’ if you want to find out more about them), and I bought my first outdoor drone back in 2019.  My sister had bought me a tiny indoor drone as a birthday present, and I bought myself a Millennium Falcon drone, which again was more of an indoor toy.  I didn’t want to spend too much money, so I ended up with a MJX Bugs 4W drone, which I blogged about here, and used it quite a bit for about 6 months.

Toward the end of 2019, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) introduced the Drone and Model Aircraft Code, which pretty much changed the game regarding flying Drones in the UK.  Anything other than a ‘toy’ drone required the user to have an Operator ID, which was pretty straightforward to apply online, although it requires annual renewal for a small fee.  Anything over 250g also requires a Flyer ID, which is an online test to ensure you are familiar with and understand the Code.

At the time, I obtained both, which wasn’t all that difficult, but the rules and regulations about when and where you can fly a drone over 250g (the Bugs 4W was over 600g) were quite restrictive.  I flew it a little during lockdown in 2020-21, but for the last few years, it has been in the carry case and not flown.

I watched a Captain Drone YouTube video last month, something I’d not done for a while, and he was reviewing a Holy Stone HS900 drone, which is under 250g and has a 4K camera, for around $250.  I followed the Amazon link, and I could get one the next day for £219, so I was far too easily seduced and clicked the buy-now button!  When it arrived the next day, I realised I’d actually bought an HS 720, which is an older model and not quite as good as the HS900 reviewed.  It never made it out of the box, and I was straight back on Amazon looking for other options when I came across the DJI Mini 4K.  This was £50 more expensive, but with the DJI pedigree and comes with a claimed 10k range (I’d never fly it that far!) and a 4K camera with 3-axis gimble.  I ordered it and returned the HS 720, and I’ve been waiting for a chance to take it out for a test flight.

That happened at the weekend after dropping my daughter at Guide Camp and taking my dog for a walk.  It happened to be where I’d filmed the original Bugs drone all those years ago.  I’m sure you can tell; the footage is in a completely different league, and I’m sure I’ll be taking this little drone out much more frequently.  In fact, I’m hoping to get it out next weekend around Linlithgow Palace and the newly refurbished St Michael Church spire.

I was hoping to post the video footage here, but I need to investigate some WordPress settings.  Even scaled down to 720p, I’ve not been able to upload to my site.  I’ll post a picture instead, and uploaded to YouTube for the timebeing.  Remember to watch in 4K for the best quality!

To buy or not to buy

Or more accurately, to buy or to lease again, that is the question!

Back in May 2021 I blogged about a Tesla Model 3 test drive, which very shortly afterwards became a Tesla Model 3 delivery day and led to a Tesla road trip blog later that year.  Almost 3 years later, our Tesla Model 3 lease is almost up, and we must make some future motoring decisions.

We’ve done 17,747 miles in Lexee (yes, you get to name your Tesla and it was leased through Lex and my daughter is called Katee).  Other than some inconsiderate Mercedes driver putting a large dint in the rear wing in a car park (which was repaired at the beginning of this year) we’ve had almost 3 years of trouble-free, and incredibly cheap motoring.  Lexee was serviced by Tesla after 2 years, but that was done exactly as shown in the picture, on our drive, where a Tesla Service Technician visited and replaced the pollen filter and carried out some minor checks.  The tyres are still fine, although I’m hoping we might get them replaced before the lease ends if we do decide to buy.  We’ve spent around £600 on electricity, which is crazy compared to how much we spent on petrol in the previous car(s).  Some of that is down to free charging, both locally and at work for the first 18 months.  We also have a home charger, and an ‘agile’ tariff which allows us to pick and choose when to charge based on the cheapest rate, so only £130 of the total.  Most of the £600 is when we’ve taken Lexee on holiday, travelling down to the Northeast of England quite often, down to London and Yorkshire a few times, and around Scotland more frequently.  During the last 2+ years, we’ve had countless software upgrades, which have added new functionality to the car and fixed some minor issues.  I can honestly say, that the only thing that still irritates me about Lexee is the automatic windscreen wipers, which are hopeless, but given some of my previous cars didn’t even do this, it’s a small price to pay.

I’ve owned cars (I blogged about them here) that have all done one of two things better than Lexee (apart from perhaps the acceleration) but as an overall package, nothing comes close.  The Tesla Model 3 is an incredible car and one I’m more than happy to continue driving.  We had another test drive in a Model Y back in 2022 when they first came out, and it’s a very similar driving experience.  My conclusion was that from a driver’s perspective, the Model 3 is a better car, but from a passenger perspective the Model Y probably edges it.  We also hired a Model Y on a road trip around the Northeast of America and Canada last summer.  We flew in and out of JFK, and travelled down to Philadelphia and Washington DC, before heading up to Niagara, Toronto, and Montreal, swinging back via Boston and Stamford.  We (I) drove almost 2000 miles and the experience couldn’t have been better.  We never waited for a charge.  We generally needed to stop before the car, and it cost $140 including tolls (excluding the $1,200 for the car)

As you might know, Tesla has just updated the Model 3 (the aptly named ‘Highland’ project) just in time for our lease ending in June.  After reading and watching far too many reviews, there was only one thing for it.  Another Tesla test drive!  It was just me and Katee last weekend when we headed down the M9 to Edinburgh trying to take in all the noises and bumps, so we could compare on the test drive.  We had the choice of a red or grey standard-range version.  Katee picked red before I’d even had a chance to think!  She drove in the front for the first half of the journey and then switched to the back for the return leg, although was a little disappointed the rear screen wasn’t working.

 The biggest difference is the lack of stalks behind the steering wheel.  My Model 3 has 2 stalks – the left one for indicating and a wiper button, the right one for selecting drive and cruise controls.  The Highland version has these controls on the steering wheel and the drive controls on the screen and above your head by the courtesy lights.  Selecting drive wasn’t a problem as we did this once on the trip.  I think you can set it, so it tries to select this automatically too.  The indicators were more of an issue, and while I’m sure it’s something you’d get used to, I can’t help feeling it would alienate some non-Tesla drivers from switching.   Every car I’ve owned had stalks for indicators, so it does feel strange and unnatural, even though it never felt much of a problem.  The only area where the Highland model didn’t feel ‘a little better than my Model 3 was the acceleration, although given that the test car was a standard-range single-motor version and we have the long-range dual-motor version, it’s a bit of an unfair comparison.  The standard range is still more than fast enough for a family saloon, but the ~4-second 0-60 time of the LR model never tires.  

But yes, everything else was just a little better.  It was a little quieter.  It was a little more comfortable.  The screen and responsiveness was a little faster.  The interior trim felt a little better and the seats a little more comfortable.  It has a nice interior light around the car (which you can change the colour) and the seats are heated AND ventilated.  The screen in the back would have perhaps sold it for Katee, but even she felt it wasn’t a compelling enough improvement to retire Lexee.  And she is absolutely right!

I’m hoping we might get to buy Lexee for around £25k.  Similar spec and mileage cars are selling on Autotrader for over £28k, so it seems like a reasonable offer, and we know the car has been looked after (I clean it every 2-4 weeks). Leasing a new one looks like it would cost more than the previous deal, which worked out around £500/month after the salary sacrifice and tax implications.  Another long-range would be at least £125/month more and even a standard range would be around £40/month more.  We’d have to factor in things like insurance, road tax, maintenance, etc. if we bought Lexee (they were all covered in the lease) but it’s probably not that much more than the monthly lease costs when you add in the cost of the car.  We’d still own Lexee in 3 years, whereas we’d be back in this same solution if we leased again.

We still have another few months to decide, and a few longer trips to do.  I’m heading down to Banbury in a few weeks to see friends and we’re back down to the Northeast for Easter.  We’re also considering a European road-trip holiday for the summer, which might be more difficult in a new lease car than it would our own Tesla.  I’ll let you know what we decided to do over the summer, probably as part of a road trip blog…

Whisky Geek

I’ve blogged a few times about whisky here, but I think it’s fair to say my interest has grown significantly in the 2-year gap between my last two blogs!  I can’t recall the exact order these things happened, but there were a number of triggers to me becoming somewhat of a whisky geek.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS)

For my 50th birthday, a good friend (and my old dive buddy) bought me a membership to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, or SMWS for short.  I’d never heard of it, but it’s probably best described as a whisky club with about 40,000 members worldwide.  They’ve been bottling whisky for 40 years (2023 was their 40th birthday) and also have private members clubs in various locations, of which three are conveniently located in Glasgow (Bath Street) and Edinburgh (Queen Street and The Valuts, their spiritual home).  The whisky is all bottled at cask strength and is very different from the typical dram I’d been drinking in the past.  I’ve visited all three clubs numerous times and bought several bottles. I try to pick these up when on offer, but I also look out for specific distillery bottlings. Their naming makes it somewhat of a challenge to know where each bottle is from.  Luckily, this can be found quite easily online, and there’s also quite a nice free App. My most recent bottle was from the January Outturn – 84.26 Uptown Funk You Sup. See if you can work out where it’s from?

Whisky Tasting

Along with visits to the SMWS, I’ve started attending a few whisky-tasting sessions. I think this started online during lockdown, where a small group of friends did some Zoom calls where we’d bought each other the same samples from an online retailer (quite often Masters of Malt). We covered whisky, rum, vodka, and red wine, but we knew what we were drinking, and it was more about the social interaction we were missing than the drinks themself!

One of those friends, who lives in the nearest village, decided to continue this post-COVID at a local bar that runs blind whisky tasting a few times a year. Du Vin Bouchers is a small wine bar on the High Street and probably only holds about 30-40 people, but the blind whisky tastings are a fantastic way of trying new whisky and meeting some like-minded people. The best ones have been hosted by the Jolly Topper, who you can follow on Twitter/X @jolly_toper. His knowledge of whisky and tasting style is excellent. He’s also the manager of the Royal Mile Whisky shop in Edinburgh, which I can recommend if you’re looking for a great place to try and buy whisky!

It was one of these whisky tastings where the seed of collecting whisky was planted in my brain. The table we sat on had another group of whisky geeks who all had substantial whisky collections and shared samples. This really sparked something in me, which I’ll go into a little more below.

Youtube

At the same time, I’ve been watching more YouTube, where there is a great online whisky community. There are far too many whisky geek Youtubers to mention, although if you are looking for somewhere to start, you can’t go wrong with Ralfy! His videos are approachable and contain excellent information, which has helped me explore whisky further. The community is quite strong, so watching one of Ralfy’s videos will invariably pop up recommendations for other whisky Youtubers. The Online Scotch Whisky Awards, or OSWAs, would be another great starting point. 2023 was their third year, set up by Ralfy and Roy, who runs the Aqvavitae channel and is heavily involved in the Dramface website, another great online whisky resource.

Whisky Collection

Online reviews, along with further reading (both online and offline), have been the main source for my growing whisky collection. I think this consisted of 3-4 open bottles back in 2016 when I first blogged about whisky here, and I currently have 13 open bottles, 84 closed bottles, and 34 samples. The samples are anything from 20ml distillery bottles to 20cl bottles of something I’ve finished but wanted to keep to try again at a later date. There are also 50ml samples that have been shared with family and friends and who have also reciprocated!

I also discovered Whiskybase, a great online tool for finding more about whisky and cataloguing a collection and history online. You can check out mine here, and feel free to invite me as a friend so I can see what you’re enjoying, too. I think this is when you realise you’ve become a whisky geek. I suspect the numbers above may have changed by the time you visit, but here are some screenshots from a few days ago.

 

 

 

 

The Open bottles

 

 

 

 

Some of the Closed bottles

If you’ve read any of my previous whisky blogs, you will have read about my friend who worked for Pernod Richard (PR). Sadly for me, he no longer works there, so the regular discounted birthday and Christmas whisky is no more. That said, the more integrity-presented whisky I’m buying and drinking as a whisky geek (46% ABV+, non-chill filtered and natural colour) isn’t well covered by their distilleries. This and my growing interest made those special occasion bottles a little more expensive for my partner! She bought two of the most expensive bottles in my collection – a Glendronarch Parliament 21yo for my 50th birthday and a Hazelburn 2010 12yo for the past Christmas. My budget has also been steadily growing, with me adding a few £100+ whiskies to add to the collection this year – an anCnoc 24yo and a Signatory Vintage Glenlivet 16yo to commemorate Ralphy’s 1000th Youtube Review!

In drafting this blog, I’ve also started 2024 with some rather extravagant purchases, even though a New Year’s resolution was to try and spend less! One of my favourite whiskies ever was a 16yo Scapa I got through the PR friend above. These are now selling for £200+, but I’d been tempted a few times last year. When I saw that The Whisky Exchange has an exclusive 19yo Scapa at Cask Strength from the distillery, I couldn’t resist, even though it was £185. Then, just a few days later, one of the newest distilleries in Scotland and the one most local to me – Falkirk Distillery – put their Inaugural Release up for sale. There are only 640 of them, and while I wasn’t expecting the £190 price tag, I didn’t feel I could miss out on owning one of the very first bottles from this new distillery, just 6 miles away!  The SMWS also seduced me with a cheap bottle and Master of Malt had an offer for two Aberlour A’Bunadh’s (batch 79 and 80) that I just couldn’t turn down!  I’d also picked up a couple of bottles from Just Whisky, an online auction site I’ve been watching for some months, but never actually won anything.  I added another Hazelburn (this one a 2008 15yo) and a cheaper Arran, and collected them from just the otherside of the Forth!  None of these are in the screenshots above, but are listed in my Whiskybase collection here.

Anyway, that’s a bit of an update on my whisky geek journey, which is still probably less than 10 years old. I’m sure it will take more than another 10 years to get through my closed bottles, especially if I keep adding to them at the rate I’ve started this year!

Slàinte